The Minnesota Timberwolves are winning with poise and confidence down the stretch. They are winning with deadly 3-point shooting and aggressive defense and balanced scoring.
In fact, they're winning exactly the way the Seattle SuperSonics were supposed to beat them.The upstart Wolves made the Sonics look old and confused Tuesday night, running off a 21-4 surge in the fourth quarter on the way to a 98-90 victory and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-5 Western Conference series.
Minnesota, the No. 7 seed, can finish off the second-seeded Sonics - and probably coach George Karl - with another win at home Thursday night. Game 5, if necessary, would be in Seattle on Saturday.
"I think Game 4, that's the game when we just come out and play loose," said Stephon Marbury, who had 14 points, 11 assists and no turnovers against Seattle's vaunted defense. "All the pressure's on them. If we come out and play loose and they see we're playing loose, I think they'll get tight."
The Sonics have been here before, though.
They trailed Phoenix 2-1 in last year's first round before rallying to win the series. But they have been stunned by Minnesota's unusual three-guard lineup and unable to do much more than scamper around the perimeter trying futilely to catch up to the Wolves' small, quick players.
Minnesota was 10-for-21 from 3-point range, compared to 4-for-19 for the Sonics.
"They beat us like we beat a lot of other teams - shooting the 3-pointer," Karl said.
Karl, who is on the verge of losing in the first round for the third time in the past five seasons, blasted his team's defensive effort. The players echoed his theme.
"We can't give up 98 points to a team that I believe is not capable of scoring 98 points against us," Hersey Hawkins said.
After winning Game 1 by 25 points, the Sonics were dazed by their second straight loss, but they vowed not to let the slump turn into their first three-game losing streak of the season.
"It's a test of our heart and our will," said Vin Baker, who had 17 points and 12 rebounds. "I don't think we're going to lose this series. I really feel like we're going to play like the team we've been all season long on Thursday. If I was a betting man, I'd put my money on the team in this locker room right now."